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Working Conditions


Women who chose to become nurses also faced many challenges. Nursing school was gruelling and the pay for student nurses was extremely low. The pay increased once they became certified; however, many nurses were still not paid their due. This fact was pointed out in an article in The Calgary Eye Opener:

How would you like to be called upon to sew up a dead man? Cheerful work, we don't think. Yet a gentlewoman of refinement preformed this ghastly task but a few weeks ago at the General. Another risked having her brains knocked out by a fellow with the DTs. For this, these nurses are remunerated at the munificent sum of $4 a month. This would be ridiculous were it not so pitiful. 1

Nurses were often given extra duties not necessarily within their training. For instance, some nurses were asked to take over duties of doctors or dentists (although male doctors were often very sensitive defending the status of their work as being higher than nurses) and private and rural nurse often performed many domestic duties. Also, living and working conditions were often less than ideal. Nurses in small hospitals often boarded there and received the same accommodations as the patients. Some of the early rural hospitals had no indoor plumbing or electricity, making many of the nurses' tasks extremely difficult. However, for many women, the opportunities afforded by a nursing career outweighed the hardships.

In the early years, women became doctors far less often than they became nurses. Medicine, like other scientific fields, was seen as requiring a high degree of rational thought, of which women, being perceived as the emotional sex, were not capable. Women could fulfill the supportive roles to men, like nursing, but they were not meant to be leaders and thinkers. However, not everyone agreed with these viewpoints and as universities in Canada opened their doors to women, they increasingly began entering male-dominated fields, like medicine. Even once they entered medicine, many women faced discrimination. They were encouraged to take up fields related to the care of women and children, such as pediatrics and obstetrics. Once they graduated, it was often difficult for women to find placements in urban centres and many had to work in remote rural areas where male doctors were reluctant to go. Some women worked to overcome these limitations, however, and trail blazed the path for other women. 



  • Boutilier, Beverly.  "Nursing Nation Builders: The Council Idea," Western Women, and the Founding of the Victorian Order of Nurses for Canada, 1896-1900."  Telling Tales.  Eds. Catherine Cavanaugh and Randi Warne.  Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2000.

  • Byfield, Ted.  Ed.  Alberta in the 20th Century.  Vol. 2.  Edmonton: United Western Communications, 1992.

  • McPherson, Kathryn.  " 'The Country is a Stern Nurse': Rural Women, Urban Hospitals and the creation of a Western Canadian Nursing Work Force, 1920-1940." ?

  • Quiney, Linda J.  " 'Hardly Feminine Work!' Violet Wilson and the Canadian Voluntary Detachment Nurses of the First World War."  Framing Our Past.  Eds. Sharon Cook, et al.  Montreal: McGill University Press, 2001.



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